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Release Date: 12/5/94
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, eight states, and 12 utility companies have joined together to promote a new voluntary program to reduce global warming emissions by turning landfill gas into energy. The power generated from landfill gas could then be sold to utilities and others, generating revenue while reducing a potent greenhouse gas. Landfills are the largest source of methane pollution in the United States. Virtually identical to natural gas, methane also is a greenhouse gas, contributing 18 percent of all global warming emissions. It is about 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas) in trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere.

The new voluntary program to convert landfill methane emissions to energy is a part of the Federal Climate Change Action Plan, announced by President Clinton in October 1993 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000.

"This is a cost-effective, common sense way to protect the environment and boost the economy," said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. "We hope the program will help landfill owners to protect the environment by turning an environmental problem into profits that helps us reach our goals of cleaner air and abundant energy."

Each person in the United States generates about 4.5 pounds of waste per day, or almost one ton per year, most of which is deposited in municipal solid waste landfills. As this waste decomposes (a process that may take 30 years or more) it produces landfill gas. Landfill gas contributes to the formation of smog and poses an explosion hazard if uncontrolled. Because landfill gas is about 50 percent methane, it is both a potent greenhouse gas and a valuable source of energy (the other 50 percent of landfill gas is mostly carbon dioxide (CO2).

Landfill gas can be used as an energy source in a number of ways. The most prevalent use is for generation of electricity that can be sold to electric utilities. Other options include use of the gas in boilers for heat and electrical generation in industrial facilities; sale to natural gas pipeline companies; and in production of compressed natural gas for auto fuel.

EPA estimates that as many as 750 landfills across the United States could install economically viable landfill gas energy recovery systems, yet only about 120 such facilities are currently operating.

Harnessing the energy value of landfill gas from these landfills would provide enough electricity to meet the annual needs of three million homes. If just 250 of these landfills become energy recovery sites, the thousands of tons

of greenhouse gas emissions prevented would be equivalent to taking 14 million cars off American roads.

The Outreach Program will also help landfill owners and operators reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include air toxics and which are the prime ingredient in the formation of ground-level ozone (smog). EPA will soon issue final regulations requiring landfill gas control at over six hundred landfills across the country. By helping to lower the barriers to landfill gas energy recovery, the Outreach Program will help these owners and operators comply with the regulations at low or no cost (and in some cases, to earn a profit). In addition, the energy produced from landfill gas will displace fossil fuels at power plants, further reducing emissions of a number of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, as well as decreasing adverse by-products of pollution control technology such as ash and scrubber sludge.

The sulfur dioxide emissions prevented at power plants would alone be worth $140 million in marketable allowances to the utilities that buy the power. (The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 set up a program to significantly reduce acid rain by using a market-based system of trading allowances allocated free to all major utilities in the country. An allowance is the right to emit one ton of SO2. For every ton of SO2 emissions prevented, a utility has one extra allowance it can sell to other utilities that may need it.)

The Outreach Program Charter State Allies are 12 agencies representing the following eight states: Washington State, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Illinois. The Charter Utility Allies include Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company; Detroit Edison Company; Emerald People's Utility District; Illinois Municipal Electric Agency; Jacksonville Electric Authority; Los Angeles Department of Water & Power; New England Electric System; Northeast Utilities; Orlando Utilities Commission; PSI Energy, Incorporated; Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative and Wisconsin Power and Light Company.

The Charter State energy and environmental agencies and the Charter Utility Allies have each signed a memorandum of understanding with EPA, committing to undertake several actions to encourage the development of landfill gas energy recovery.

Call Cindy Jacobs in EPA's Global Change Division at 202-233-9631.